A Red by Any Other Name

“Hey Mom, what’s your favourite colour?”

I heard this question often when my boys were young. I could never give them a definitive answer though. “It depends,” I would say. “The colours I like for my garden aren’t necessarily the same colours I like to wear, or the colours I like to decorate the house with.” Was I a bad Mom, because I wouldn’t play the what’s-your-favourite game?

Over the years I’ve thought more about this – I suspect one day I’ll have grandchildren who will no doubt ask, “What’s your favourite colour Grandma?” – and I want to have an answer for them. So I decided to abide by the old adage, ‘when in doubt, make a list’. I took inventory of the colours in my garden, the colours in my closet, and the colours in the house. I compared the 3 lists and noted they had but one colour in common – rich dark burgundy, so named for the red wines of Burgundy (region of France). I guess this must be my favourite colour!

Now apparently, one’s favourite colour says something about one’s disposition; for example, people who like blue are reputed to be reliable, responsible, honest and loyal. Those who favour green are supposedly generous, good listeners, and possess good judgement. But I could find no descriptions of people whose favourite colour is burgundy.

If you’ve read my posts on colour theory you know that burgundy is actually a very dark red, and according to colour psychology, people who like red are passionate, strong-willed, extroverted and confident. They are also controlling, quick-tempered, easily bored and impulsive. Honey, does this sound like me? Well, maybe when I was younger.

But my favourite colour isn’t red; it’s burgundy – not ordinary red, but very dark red. Perhaps I’m everything a red personality is – but darker?  Yikes, how sinister! Upon further research I eventually found a number of references describing the ‘burgundy personality’. Burgundy is, apparently, a well-disciplined red. A mature, sophisticated red. Like red wine, I guess we get better with age….

Beautiful, bodacious burgundy - my favourite colour. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful, bodacious burgundy – my favourite colour. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Today is Valentine’s Day, an appropriate day to talk about red – and a fine time to savour a glass of Burgundy with someone you love. So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and all things lovey-dovey, I leave you with this little piece of wisdom:

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other.....

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other…..

but in looking outward together in the same direction” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery ~

…but in looking outward together in the same direction” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A really good smooch works too. Mourning Dove photos: Pat Gaviller

A really good smooch works too. Mourning Dove photos: Pat Gaviller

 
Happy Valentine’s Day,
Sue

 

Colouring Your Garden – Part 9: Colour Schemes

Have you ever had the experience of driving along on a summer day and somewhere in your peripheral vision, you catch sight of a gorgeous garden? Slamming on the brakes, you stop and stare, momentarily transfixed.

What is it about this ‘living picture’ that has you so enchanted that the rules of the road are temporarily ignored? Perhaps what you find so captivating is the use of colour. How beautifully the colours work in concert! Is this happenstance – or was it planned?

Good use of colour in the garden – even if informal – usually does involve planning. Indeed sometimes the difference between an average composition and a head-turner, is an effective colour scheme. For many gardeners though, purposefully employing a garden colour scheme just doesn’t cross their minds. Or they may dismiss the notion as too restrictive, preferring instead the more random use of colour.

Utilizing a colour scheme doesn’t have to be restrictive if we think rather in terms of a hue scheme. Looking to the Munsell Book of Colour, we find that for each hue, there are many permutations of value and saturation all arranged on an individual page. So if we want to work with a scheme which includes red, we have a whole hue page to choose from  just for red! The other hues in our scheme afford us the same broad selection of colours. A little less restrictive than you thought, right?

Colour Schemes

A colour scheme is a planned or logical combination of hues on a colour wheel. As we discussed in earlier posts, there is more than one colour wheel, but you’ll probably find the artist’s colour wheel to be the most user-friendly. You can then refer to Munsell hue pages (or reasonable facsimile) for guidance with the various colours that fall within that hue. I do sometimes utilize Munsell’s hue circle to work out colour schemes, but they aren’t always as straightforward. For ease of use then, I am mixing models here.

So how does one go about choosing a colour scheme for the garden? If your house or other backdrop is a particularly strong chromatic colour, then it’s most effective if you include that colour in your scheme. If on the other hand, your house is more neutral, then start with a colour you really like and build from there.

The colours used in this restaurant patio planting echo the muted red and yellow hues of the siding on the building. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few things to consider as you ponder the possibilities. Remember that green will be a consistent presence in the garden – most plants have green foliage and the hue will predominate in the surrounding landscape. However, since the eye expects to always see green, it will largely ignore it, focusing instead on the other colour constituents. So you can think of green as your canvas, the backdrop for your colour scheme – neutral and thus ignored. Or it can be one of the hues in your colour scheme.

The presence of green also provides balance – cool hues should outweigh warm hues by approximately three to one, hence the prevalence of green in the garden ensures this proportion is always met.

Keep in mind too that you can vary the colour schemes from one part of the garden to another (particularly if you have a large canvas), and the scheme can also change or evolve as the season progresses. In my own garden I have numerous colourful foliage plants (eg. yellow-green, red-violet), so while the colour scheme changes from spring to summer to fall, those hues must always be part of the scheme. And there are times when there isn’t a colour scheme at all.

Realistically speaking, some scenarios don’t lend themselves to formal colour schemes (if only for the reason that the proprietor of a well established garden may not want to part with anything – just to incorporate a colour scheme). One can still play with colour schemes though; containers are a great way to experiment without committing to a particular composition.

So let’s have a look at what we can construct using the artist’s colour wheel and some Munsell hue pages.

Monochromatic colour schemes use various values and degrees of saturation of a single hue. Working with a single hue creates naturally harmonious colour compositions.

Monochromatic colour scheme using the hue of red-violet (5RP). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Complementary colour schemes contain two hues that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

This is a high contrast colour combo, which means it can be loud and demand attention. So you’ll want to tame it by including numerous value/saturation variations of the pure hues – and of course lots of green.

Complementary Colour Scheme: Red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom and right – Sue Gaviller

Analogous colour schemes use two or three hues that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Although this is a low contrast combination, analogous hues still benefit from utilizing variations in saturation and value of the chosen hues, thus introducing more variety. Remember if you choose warm hues, there will need to be significant green (foliage) in your composition to provide the necessary cool/warm balance.

analagous-r-o-o-y-o-resize

Analogous Colour Scheme: red-orange (10R), orange (5YR) and yellow-orange (2.5Y). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint schemes consist of a hue and one of the hues on either side of its complement.

This too is a dynamic colour combo, but somewhat less so than complementary compositions – many people prefer this colour duo as it generates less visual conflict. Again the use of variations in value and saturation of the two hues will create both unity and variety.

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint Colour Scheme: red (5R) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Split-complementary schemes are three-hue combos that use one hue and the two hues on either side of its complement.

The split-complementary colour combo has all the dynamism of complementary and counterpoint, with the balancing addition of two hues that are closer together. A garden may transition from the aforementioned counterpoint theme to split-complementary as the growing season progresses and more plants (thus more colours) take the stage.

Split Complementary colour scheme - yellow, blue-violet and red-violet. Photos: Top left: Cathy Gaviller. Right: Jane Reksten

Split Complementary colour scheme: yellow (5Y), blue-violet (7.5PB) and red-violet (5RP). Photos: Top left – Cathy Gaviller. Right – Jane Reksten. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary schemes use two adjacent hues and the complement of one of those hues.

Similar in effect to split-complementary, analogous-complementary schemes are especially soothing if the analogous constituents are cool hues.

Analogous-Complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5YG). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom left/right – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Double-complementary schemes use two adjacent colors and the complements of both of those hues.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

This four-hue scheme brings both drama (from opposites) and subtlety (from analogues) to a garden composition, and can be a natural seasonal transition from analogous-complementary as more plants come into bloom.

Double-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP), yellow (5Y) and yellow-green (5GY). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Diads are colour schemes that consist of two hues located two spaces apart on the colour wheel.

Though this colour duo provides more contrast than an analogous scheme, it is still a low-contrast theme and less dramatic than higher contrast combinations. More contrast can be introduced if one of the hues is warm and one is cool, for example red and purple.

Diadic Colour Scheme: red (5R) and violet (5P). Photos: top – Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Triads use three hues that are equally spaced around the colour wheel.

Triadic schemes offer interesting colour combinations and are inherently balanced because the hues are all equidistant from each other.

Triadic Colour Scheme: Violet-blue (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Triadic Colour Scheme: blue-violet (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Tetrads are colour schemes using four hues that are consistently spaced on the colour wheel.

  • Square tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a square placed in the centre of the colour wheel.
  • Rectangular tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a rectangle placed in the centre of the colour wheel

Four-hue schemes provide considerable colour choice thus can be quite vibrant, especially when hues are at full saturation. They can be toned down somewhat with the addition of less saturated versions of the pure hues.

Tetradic Colour Scheme: red-violet (5RP), orange (5R), yellow-green (5GY) and blue (5B). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

You can see that with all the variations in value and saturation for each hue, many different but related colours are available to you – even when using only a couple of hues. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to the Munsell Book of Color, but there are numerous apps and online tools that will provide more than enough visual info for application in the garden.

I highly recommend the Virtual Munsell Color Wheel. It’s very easy to use – just bear in mind that it includes all the intermediate hues that lie between the basic hues (totaling 40 hues), which you may find overwhelming. The digital ‘hue pages’ aren’t identical to those in the Munsell Book of Colour either (copyright and such). You’ll also note that, compared to the traditional RYB colour wheel, Munsell’s blue (5B) appears more green and his purple-blue (5PB) more blue – this is because he divided the circular colour spectrum differently. I wouldn’t get too carried away with detail or accuracy though. Just choose your colour scheme using the artist’s colour wheel and find the hues that most closely approximate them on the Virtual Wheel.

Finding foliage or flowers in exactly the right colour may be next to impossible anyway. But don’t get discouraged. Remember green foliage abounds in the garden, and with all that ‘green between’, you’ll find that almost-the-right-colour will be close enough.

So the next time the colour in some gorgeous garden catches your eye, you’ll know why – but that driver behind you probably won’t care. You’d better get moving before he leans on the horn again – head on home and create your own colour scheme. Now you know how!

‘Til next time,
Sue

 

 

 

Colouring Your Garden, Part 7 – You Can’t Believe Everything You See

It’s the last week of March and it’s again been more than five months since I last posted to this blog. I just don’t know where the time goes. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and yet I feel like I’m accomplishing less. Perhaps it’s a function of age – everything seems to take longer the older I get. Or maybe it’s a function of the increasingly higher standards I set for myself. For example, last month I gave two  lectures to the current class of Master Gardener students. One of these was a full day design presentation – a talk I’d given (in some form or another) dozens of times and to a variety of audiences. It gets tweaked each time – compressed or expanded depending on the audience, but this time I ended up rebuilding the whole damn thing! Why? Well, as I reviewed my PowerPoint slides I found myself scoffing at everything; the photos looked unprofessional, the font was dated, the animation amateurish… and so a ‘tweak’ became a major reconstruction.

I was relatively happy with the finished product, but I don’t know if it was worth the several all-nighters I pulled to get it done (staying up all night was way easier, and waaaay more fun, in my twenties than in my fifties). And in the end, did I actually impart any more, or any better information to the students? Who knows? I do know though, that perfectionism isn’t always in one’s best interest. Because now I am sick. Not deathly ill, but miserable enough that I don’t feel like doing much of anything. So loyal readers, it seems my misfortune is your good fortune since the one thing I do feel up to, is writing. In fact it just might make me feel better.

If you remember my last post (it was so long ago, I barely remember) we examined the relationship between colour and various aspects of human perception – more specifically, how the former can impact the latter. Continuing with this exploration then, let’s look at some of the ways our visual perception can in turn affect and distort colour.

Understanding various visual mechanisms – ways our vision adapts and adjusts – is a key piece of the garden colour puzzle. For the most part, our eyes successfully adapt to ever-changing visual data, allowing us to maintain a stable and consistent interpretation of the world around us. We know that an object appearing smaller from across a room is the same size regardless of where we view it from, or that the darker colour created by a shadow doesn’t change the actual colour of an object. We know these things without even thinking about them – unless we are trying to draw or paint said objects. Sometimes though, this ‘constancy apparatus’ fails and our eyes make erroneous adjustments. Four such adjustments are commonly experienced; Simultaneous Contrast, Successive Contrast, Colour Assimilation and Colour Separation. Today we’ll look at the first two of these visual phenomena.

Simultaneous Contrast

Adjacent colours interact with one another other in a most curious way – actually changing the appearance of each other; an effect known as Simultaneous Contrast. Of course this phenomenon isn’t due to any magical properties the colours possess; rather the adjustments are taking place within our own visual system as it attempts to decipher and differentiate that which it sees by accentuating colour differences. All three colour attributes can be influenced by neighbouring colours, the effect being most noticeable when one colour is completely surrounded by another.

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Simultaneous Contrast of Hue. An identical magenta-coloured circle is placed all around the Artist’s Wheel illustrating how a hue can differ dramatically in appearance depending on the background hue. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

So what is actually happening here? Are our eyes just playing tricks on us? Well yes in fact they are. As I mentioned before, one of the ways our eyes recognize and discriminate between adjacent colours is by accentuating their differences, and in so doing, imbues each colour with traits of the other colour’s opposite. Yikes, that was a mouthful wasn’t it? Maybe I can better explain with some examples.

In the first example below, a magenta-coloured square is surrounded by a green square on the left and an orange square on the right – we can all agree it doesn’t look like the same magenta, right? (I assure you it is though). Our eyes acknowledge the green then ‘over-differentiate’ and induce green’s opposite hue, red, which then mixes with the magenta, making it appear warmer – hot pink even. The orange square on the other hand stimulates our eyes to add its opposite, blue, thus creating a cooler looking purple-pink. Another way to think of it is that colours will shift in hue, value and saturation away from those of the surrounding colour. Because the magenta square is smaller and completely enveloped in another colour it has little effect on those surrounding colours.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Hue – note how the hue of the smaller square appears different depending on the background colour. Graphics: Sue Gaviller.

The next example shows Simultaneous Contrast as it relates to Value alone. On the left a medium gray square is enclosed on a background of darker charcoal gray, and on the right the same medium gray is surrounded by lighter gray. Again our vision discriminates between the darker gray and the medium gray by overstating the lightness of the medium gray (left). Likewise our eyes discriminate between the lighter gray and the medium gray by overstating the darkness of the medium gray (right).

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Value – a medium gray square looks markedly different surrounded by darker gray than by the lighter gray. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

In the third example the smaller square is a red of medium to low saturation, but its saturation seems to strengthen as its background colour weakens.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast of Chroma/Saturation. All of the above squares are the same hue (5R or Red) but vary in saturation (colour content). The smaller square is weakly saturated but appears even less so in contrast to the fully saturated square on the left. However when contrasted with the almost-gray square on the right, it appears to have much richer colour content.  Graphics: Sue Gaviller

It is difficult to illustrate this effect with garden photographs – photos can deceive, particularly where colour is concerned. Perceived hue differences (or lack thereof) could thus be the fault of the photo and not a real representation of what is happening in the garden. And the degree to which Simultaneous Contrast is seen in the garden is less than one might think – there are many other factors at play, for example; weather changes, seasonal changes, daily sun movements, and even the amount of particulate matter in the air, can all affect lighting conditions, which in turn affect the colours we observe. Colour is reflected from other objects and surfaces too, thus altering hue perception, and the constant presence of unifying green can mitigate various colour illusions.

Nevertheless we do witness Simultaneous Contrast in our gardens and landscapes, though it is more subtle than squares of colour on a computer monitor. The effect, especially where hue is concerned, is most noticeable when two adjacent hues present as solid blocks of uninterrupted colour. Of course plants don’t always present this way since foliage, flower petals, stamens etc. are often different colours, which means colours will intermingle (this can produce yet another effect, one I will look at in my next post). Tertiary or intermediate colours (red-violet, blue-green, etc.) will be influenced to a greater degree by their surroundings than basic or primary hues because their make-up is more complex.

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Liatris spicata is a medium to high value red-violet – when contrasted with bright yellow Heliopsis helianthoides, it appears slightly blue-ish. However, next to Helictotrichon sempervirens, it looks somewhat pinker. Photos: Sue Gaviller

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Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is a widely spreading evergreen groundcover – note how its blue-green hue shifts from slightly mauve-ish on the left to dull green on the right. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ (left) looks a rich saturated purple-blue when paired with very desaturated Eryngium (right). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

The same Echinops would appear somewhat less saturated if situated beside the very rich-hued Gentian on the right Photos: Sue Gaviller

Simultaneous Contrast is the reason two complementary colours, when used together, create such a forceful pairing – they increase the intensity of each other. Think about it; each colour bestows upon the other, the traits of its own opposite – which is the other colour. A double dose of each!

sc - complementary colours 2 crop

This complementary pairing of red-violet Iris germanica against a backdrop of yellow-green Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’ creates an intense vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Red-orange and blue-green succulents bounce dazzling colour off each other because they are a complementary pairing. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Successive Contrast

Another visual effect related to Simultaneous Contrast is Successive Contrast – the best way to demonstrate this effect is to try the following: stare at the coloured circle below for 30 to 60 seconds, then immediately turn your gaze to a blank piece of white paper. What do you see? If you don’t see anything, try again. And if you have any serious eye condition or disease, you might want to avoid this exercise altogether.

green circle 2

 

When you look at the white paper after staring at the green circle,  you should see a circle of the same size in a light reddish pink colour – this is called an afterimage. Let’s try another one. Stare at the orange circle below for half-a-minute or so then look at the white piece of paper again.

orange circle

 

So what colour did y’all see this time? Light bluish right? We see this afterimage because the eye’s receptors for a particular color become desensitized to it, or more accurately, the receptors for the other colours become more sensitive – hence we see the perceptual complement of the colour we’ve just been staring at. The afterimage will dissipate shortly, its duration proportionate to the length of time you viewed the original colour and the intensity (saturation) of that colour.

Now try looking at each of the circles again, but this time when you avert your gaze, instead of focusing on the white paper, look towards a different coloured background. What do you notice? The colour of the afterimage should now blend with the new colour you are looking at. You can see where this might come into play in the garden – look at the following garden image for at least 30 seconds then at the white paper again. Do you experience the same effect?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

How about this one?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The two previous images should produce afterimages the same size and shape as the photo images, in colours opposite to the predominant colour in the photos. Now see what happens when you look at one of them for a bit, then the other right after – how do they affect each other. What about the next image – how does staring at each of the previous two photos affect the way you see the colour of the Rudbeckia in the following photo?

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

The effect here will likely be muted – in fact you may have to do this exercise a few times before you recognize it. And because the effect is fleeting, its implications in the garden environs are limited. Large swaths of colour are more likely to produce afterimage effect because you will look at them for longer – all in all the experience of afterimages distorting the visual experience of successive plant colours, will at most be intermittent.

However, learning to recognize this phenomenon, as well as Simultaneous Contrast, affords the gardener one more advantage in working with colour in the garden. We’ll look at two more interesting colour effects in my next post.

Well whaddya know? I feel much better. Now if only pretty plants and pretty colours could heal our hurting world….

’Til next time,
Sue

 

 

Colouring Your Garden – Part 6; Putting Colour to Work

Greetings loyal readers. It seems I haven’t published a post in more than 5 months. I guess time flies when you’re having fun… or when you’re really busy. And a very busy summer it has been, both personally and professionally. Thanks to all who keep visiting here despite the lack of new content.

So to get back to where we were a loooong time ago, let’s continue with our study of colour in the garden. It’s time to take all that technical stuff about Hue, Value & Saturation and put it to work for you.

The interaction between colour and human perception is two-way – colour can influence perception, and perception can influence how we see colour. Today we’ll look at a couple of ways colour can affect perception and how this might be utilized in our gardens.

According to Encarta Dictionary, the psychological definition of perception is “any neurological process of acquiring and mentally interpreting information from the senses.” It is the interpreting of this information that makes colour a useful tool.

Temperature Perception

Looking out my window one morning last week, I saw blue-grey haze. Acrid smoke from distant forest fires filled the air, prompting air quality advisories and recommending folks stay inside. When I did venture outside briefly, I was surprised at how warm it was – the smoky, blue-grey light made it appear much cooler. Later that same day, as increasingly more smoke particles refracted what light could pierce the smoke, a reddish-orange light was cast over everything – I stepped outside again, this time anticipating oppressive heat, but it wasn’t as warm as I’d expected.

Both scenarios came about because my brain incorrectly interpreted the information my eyes had gathered – I expected coolness when the light wavelengths were in a cooler range, and warmth when longer wavelengths prevailed. Indeed we may actually feel cooler in the presence of cool colours, and warmer in the presence of warm colours. Those of you who live in colder climates have no doubt had the experience of looking out the window on a frigid winter day and feeling warmed to the core at the sight of a bright yellow sun.

This phenomenon can be exploited in the garden – perhaps you look out your window on a too-cool spring day and your whole being longs for the warmth of summer. Your eyes look toward your garden and espy drifts of orange tulips, yellow primrose and warm pink azalea – and you feel instantly warm. Or maybe you are sitting in your garden on a smoldering hot summer afternoon and note the swaths of soft mauve Russian sage, cool blue Delphinium and violet-blue globe thistle – how cool it feels.

warm spring colours

Warm hues make cool spring days feel balmy and bright.
Top
– Photos: Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Photos: Sue Gaviller

cool summer colours

Summertime blues provide cool respite from the heat. Photos: Sue Gaviller

On the other hand, maybe you like the coolness of spring and choose to accentuate this with the use of cool springtime hues – bright blue forget-me-nots, lilac-pink rock cress, mauve tulips and rich purple dwarf iris. And for those who like it hot, summer’s heat can be turned up a notch by using plants that bloom warm colours in midsummer – bright golden Rudbeckia, mahogany-red Helenium, warm pink Echinacea, and a sprinkling of hot lime-green foliage. Remember though, that abundant warm colours in the garden still require lots of green – enough to balance and counteract the bright reds, oranges and yellows.

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Cool spring colours highlight cool spring weather. Photos: Sue Gaviller

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The heat is on – warm colours sizzle in the summer heat. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Depth/Distance Perception

Visual design often involves a bit of trickery – ways of deceiving the eye to see something that isn’t altogether accurate. For example, in the urban setting many of us reside, yards are often small and disproportionately shaped. The designer’s challenge is to create a sense of spaciousness and pleasing proportion. Understanding the nuances of colour and using it effectively is one way we can achieve this.

If you recall from earlier posts in this series, warm colours appear closer than they really are, as do high value colours and those that are highly saturated. Likewise, cool colours, as well as those of low value and/or low saturation, appear further away. This optical illusion can be used to elongate a short flat space or shorten a long narrow space.

Since all three colour attributes come into play here, it isn’t always possible to predict how the eye will perceive a particular colour. For example, cool colours tend to recede and high value colours appear to advance – so a pastel mauve might do either depending on the colours that surround it. In the image below – one of many Joseph Alber’s paintings paying homage to ‘the square’ – the black central area at first appears to recede. The mauve area however, appears to alternately approach and retreat, thus bringing the black square forward then back.

For any given colour to provide the desired depth illusion, you must consider its context, i.e. its relationship to other nearby colours. A warm hue will appear closer to the viewer when contrasted with a cool hue of equal or lower value and saturation, but further away when contrasted with another warm hue of greater saturation and/or higher value. And although cool colours usually appear to recede, a cool colour that is high value will advance if contrasted with a low value colour of the same hue and equal or less saturation.

squares resize

The central hot pink square appears to advance toward us when set against the cooler, darker and less saturated purple square, whereas it recedes when contrasted with the warmer, lighter and more saturated orange. It also appears to be a different colour – a phenomenon I’ll discuss in my next post. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lilium ‘Loretto’ and Berberis thunbergii both present very warm colouring. However, the lower value and weaker saturation of the barberry make it appear to recede, in contrast to the higher value and richer saturation of the lily, which appears to ‘pop right out’ at the camera. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

While cool colours often appear to recede from the observer, this cool mauve does the opposite when seen against a darker, less saturated version of the same hue. Note how the high-value, cool coloured tulips in the foreground jump out at us visually and the dark ones retreat further into the background. Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

So how do we use all of this to our benefit in the garden? If the colour of an object causes it to appear further away, placing this colour at the far end of a short flat space might serve to visually elongate the space – additionally, by contrasting this with the use of advancing colours on the side borders, the disproportionate width may appear compressed. Likewise, a long narrow space can be shortened and widened by placing advancing colours at the far end and receding colours on the lateral boundaries. The effect is subtle – colour is by no means the primary cue whereby we perceive depth – but when combined with other forms of ‘forced perspective’, a strong impression of distance or closeness can be implied.

In this well done rectilinear landscape, the designer has created a space that is longer in one direction than the other. Photo: Pat Gaviller

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A photoshopped version of the same photo – note the wall of warm, high value, fully saturated orange daylilies appears to advance, thus shortening the space. The junipers, now slightly darker, appear to recede thus widening the space somewhat. Photo: Pat Gaviller. Retouch: Sue Gaviller

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Viewing the two images side by side, the effect is more obvious, albeit still subtle.

Do You See What I See?

The perception that some colours advance and others recede, isn’t an experience shared by everyone, particularly the warm vs. cool dichotomy – indeed there are those who don’t experience this phenomenon at all, as well as those who actually see the reverse of what most people see. It can also vary within the same individual, dependent on numerous factors; for example, the effect is much less apparent if the two contrasting colours (warm and cool) are viewed against a very light background. Age too, can dictate how colour affects our perception.

It’s all about the physics of vision. Yawn. Physics – I had the dullest, most boring, uninspiring, high school physics teacher ever. Last period of the day. Double yawn. But I digress. To put it in simplest terms, it has to do with light rays of differing wavelengths and where they refract and converge on our retinas.

Regardless, one thing is certain; colour – with its countless combinations of warm or cool, light or dark, and muted or vibrant – affects us all in subtle ways we aren’t even aware of. In my next post I’ll look at how our perception, in turn, affects the way we see colour.

’Til then,
Sue

Colouring Your Garden – Part 4; Saturated Solutions

A week or so ago, while out for a walk with my sister in her inner-city neighbourhood, I heard the familiar sound of Robin chirps. It took me a minute to realize that the sound was out of place on this mid-February afternoon. Indeed my sister doubted me initially, but then she heard it too. “Holy $#!+.” she said.  According to local bird experts a few robins do spend the winter here, but neither of us had ever seen one this early in the year.

Several blocks later I happened to look up and espied what appeared to be pussy willows. At first I thought it might be water droplets on the branches reflecting the late day sun – but then I reached up and felt the fat fuzzy protuberances. Yep, those are pussy willows. While there are many species of willow that produce the downy catkins, a few as early as February,  Salix discolor, the true North American pussy willow doesn’t usually bloom here until mid March – this was February 12th! I didn’t know whether to be elated or alarmed. Either spring is coming really early or the birds and the trees are in for a cold, snowy, nasty surprise in the weeks to come – despite a mild winter from a moderate El Nino effect, this is still zone 3 Calgary and the early bird rarely gets the worm. Only time will tell I guess, but my vote is for an early spring. In the meantime fellow gardeners, we have more to learn about colour.

Over the last few months I’ve been discussing colour theory as it relates to garden design. We’ve looked at two of the three attributes of colour (Hue and Value) and today we’ll examine the third; Saturation, or what Munsell called Chroma.

Saturation is the strength or concentration of a colour and is determined by how much of a particular hue is present in that colour. Think high school science for a moment and consider the amount of solute in a solution – in the scientific sense, saturation occurs when a liquid has reached its capacity to absorb a dissolved substance. Brine for example, is a solution of water and salt – if we start with pure water, then add salt until the water can’t absorb any more, we have a saturated solution. Similarly with colour, if we start with gray then add a particular hue until maximum hue content (i.e the pure hue) is reached, then we have full colour saturation.

High Saturation

A highly saturated colour reflects a great deal of light from one specific part of the spectrum, and very little light from anywhere else on the spectrum; for example, the pure hue of red reflects most light from the end of the visible spectrum where red is located, and yellow reflects most light from near the middle of the spectrum.

The pure hues (i.e. Munsell’s 10 basic hues around the outer edge of the Munsell Colour Space, or the 12 hues on the Artist’s Colour Wheel) are considered fully saturated. These are the vibrant colours some gardeners adore and others abhor; they are intense and flamboyant, and employed effectively are stunning additions to a garden composition. Used indiscriminately however, they’re sure to create garden chaos.

Photos and Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Full saturation. Photos and Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Saturated hues hold up well under full sun with very little colour washout, and like warm hues and high value colours, appear closer than they really are. They are thus highly conspicuous in the landscape, perfect for creating emphasis or accenting an area you want to draw attention to; an approach or a destination.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Planting bright saturated colours in entryway container arrangements as this gardener has done, effectively draws the eye to the front entrance, creating a welcoming focal point. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Public gardens and parks often use abundant saturated colours in their annual display gardens – while this style of planting design isn’t one I’m likely to adopt, the plethora of intense colour certainly does what it’s intended to do; attract attention.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Massed annuals in strong spicy hues draw the eye directly to the Tea House, advertising its presence and inviting visitors in. Note how the saturated reds and yellows hold their colour without fading in the bright sunlight. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fullest saturation is experienced when hues are used individually rather than together – if two highly saturated colours are in close proximity to each other, the effect will be to decrease the intensity of both. This isn’t to say you should never use more than one saturated colour in a composition – you certainly can – but any given colour will be seen at its purist if there aren’t other equally intense, and therefore competing, colours close by (remember the design principle Unity by Dominance). The exception to this is complementary hues, which will both be intensified by their nearness to one another.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Lime green Hosta, violet-red Paeonia, golden Hemerocallis and yellow Sedum all present very saturated colour – while it’s an attractive composition, the strong colours do compete somewhat meaning none of them can take centre stage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

The same photo, now cropped to isolate the peony from the other intense colours, illustrates how a saturated colour on its own has stronger colour presentation than numerous competing colours together. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The eye perceives large areas of colour as more saturated than smaller areas; hence fine textured plants (small leaves and/or flowers) don’t appear as saturated as those with coarse texture (large leaves and/or flowers). This is particularly apparent when seen from a distance, so fullest possible saturation will only be experienced up close – distance tends to mute or desaturate colour. I learned this quite by accident in my own garden in my pre-designer years. I’d wanted a hefty shot of hot pink in a particular spot in the garden and chose Anthony Waterer spirea for its long-blooming bright fuchsia flowers. I thought I was happy with the choice, since it was just the right colour and bloomed continuously. However, I soon realized that unless I was right up at the edge of the garden, the fine-textured umbels of hot pink blooms looked dull an unimpressive, if seen at all. Needless to say I removed it – at some point I figured out that I needed a bigger, bolder flower to anchor the spot. I have since planted Purple Pavement rose, its large velvety, red-violet blooms showing strong colour even from far away.

Viewed from very close, coarse-textured Iris and fine-textured Salvia both present saturated Blue-Violet colouring. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from very close, coarse-textured Iris and fine-textured Salvia both present saturated Blue-Violet colouring. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from a few feet away, the big bold Iris blooms maintain almost full colour content and still appear richly-hued, whereas the finer-textured Salvia flowers appear somewhat desaturated. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from a few feet away, the big bold Iris blooms maintain almost-full colour content and still appear richly-hued, whereas the finer-textured Salvia flowers appear somewhat desaturated. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Low Saturation

Colours become less and less saturated the closer they are to the central neutral axis of Munsell’s Colour Space. The neutrals have no hue content whatsoever – they are the achromatic colours of white, black and numerous shades of gray in between. Colours that have some hue content but are relatively low in saturation, have a dull or muted appearance compared to their more highly saturated counterparts; hence they attract much less attention. We see this in some foliage, especially evergreen foliage, ornamental grasses, fading flowers and seed heads.

Low saturation plants 2

Low or weak saturation. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

These muted colours are a nice foil or contrast to brighter flowers and foliage, affording the appearance of fuller saturation to neighbouring plants, even those that may be less than fully saturated.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent flowers of purple smoke bush appear like billowy wisps of copper-rose smoke. The colour is actually a red of only medium saturation, but looks more intensely coloured next to the much less saturated inflorescence of the ornamental grasses. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The muted blue-green of weeping blue cedar provides a soft backdrop allowing rich crimson barberry to really stand out. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Colours that have low or weak saturation appear to recede from the viewer thus seem farther away than they actually are. As mentioned earlier in this post, distance desaturates colour, as does bright sun and fine texture – any of these scenarios will lead to further desaturation of already dullish colours.

fescue sun

fescue shadeLeft: Fine-textured Festuca glauca (foreground) appears almost colourless under the glare of mid day sun. Right: the same blue fescue grasses, now in shade, display much higher colour content. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Unlike highly saturated colours, less saturated colours allow for the use of many hues within the same composition – without the garish results.

muted colours 4

Muted hues of red, orange, yellow, green, and red-violet are present in this composition but due to their low colour content, don’t overwhelm. Note that the one very saturated colour, the yellow-green cypress in the centre of the photo, is more prominent than any other colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

 Saturation Contrast

Contrasting saturation levels of a single hue creates subtle unity as the eye recognizes the underlying hue and connects the elements.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Terra cotta is a weakly saturated (and higher value) red-orange and provides elegant contrast to the highly saturated red-orange of the begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

You may recall from my last post that the pure hues don’t have equal native values – neither do they have equal hue content or saturation. The pure hue of Red for example has the highest degree of saturation, twice that of the lowest, which is Blue-Green. This means there are twice as many steps from neutral to pure red, than there are from neutral to pure Blue-Green.

An image from Munsell's Atlas of Color showing the scale of Chromas (Saturation) for Red and Blue-Green.

An image from Munsell’s Atlas of Color showing the scale of Chromas (Saturation) for Red and Blue-Green. Note that from the central neutral (gray) axis, there are 10 steps outward to fully saturated Red, and only 5 steps to fully saturated Blue-Green

When combining these colours, in order  to achieve a balanced composition, you’ll need at least twice as much Blue-Green as Red. Alternatively you could use a Red that is less saturated so it approximates the saturation of the Blue-Green.

Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

One way to balance Red and Blue-Green is to use a less saturated Red that is closer to the more weakly saturated Blue-Green. Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Of course gardeners can’t be expected to know or remember the precise chroma or saturation of any given hue – but with a little colour knowledge we can be confident that if a colour seems very strong or intense, it probably is, and we can use it accordingly (i.e. sparingly). Likewise if a colour appears to be more subtle or muted, we can be pretty sure that it is less saturated and we can use a little more of it to balance out the more saturated colours.

Maintaining colour balance in the garden is another reason for using plenty of – you guessed it: green. And I don’t mean yellow-green, blue-green, gray-green or variegated green; I mean the basic hue of green – think lilac foliage or kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, peony or pine. These foliage greens have medium value and medium saturation – which means they can balance and bring together the stronger and weaker colours. Are you starting to get the picture now?

Foliage examples of basic green. Clockwise from top: common lilac, kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, Itoh peony and dwarf mugo pine. Photos: Sue Gaviller

The basic hue of green has medium value and medium saturation. Clockwise from top: common lilac, kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, Itoh peony and dwarf mugo pine. Photos: Sue Gaviller

During the long months of winter, weak desaturated colours abound (dead grass, naked bark, dull evergreen foliage, mud, gravel, etc.), especially evident in mild winters when there is no snow to brighten the landscape – we long for the full, rich colours of spring and summer. My friends I think it’s not far off – I’m anticipating a very early spring.

However, despite the robins and willows fuelling my hopes, a good friend and client has cautioned me, “Don’t you dare, dare to hope for such an early spring – February is WAYYYYY too early!” she jokingly admonished.

Hey girl, don’t rain on my parade.

’Til next time,
Sue

Colouring Your Garden – Part 3; Value Added

“Nowhere in nature can you find purer color than sunlight passing through the petal of a flower.”     ~ Larry K. Stephenson, Artist ~

Sunlit petals – the imagery evokes such warmth. Indeed there would be no flower petals without sunlight – plants require light to bloom, and light gives the flower (or any object) its colour.  In my last post I discussed the attribute of Hue which results from the particular wavelength of that light. In this post I’ll look at Value, which results from the amount of light reflected back from an object.

In simpler terms, Value is how light or dark a colour is. If you recall from Part 1 of this series, the value scale is located along the central vertical axis of the Munsell 3D Colour Space. Black is at the bottom of the scale and since it reflects no light, has a value of zero. White, located at the top of the value scale, has the highest value (10) because it reflects the most light – so the darker the colour, the lower the value. Here we start to see colour relationships within a single hue. For instance, maroon, red and pink are all the same hue but at different values, and mauve is the same hue as purple but at a higher value.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus cistena and Potentilla  ‘Pink Beauty’ displaying light, medium and dark values of the same hue. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Munsell value scale resample

An image from Munsell’s Colour Atlas depicting the basic hues at values from 2 through 8.

High Value Colours

Colours that have high value, pastels for example, are highly visible because they reflect so much light. Like warm hues, they appear to advance towards the observer, thus seem closer than they really are. For these reasons, plants with pastel colouring provide real ‘pop’ in the garden. And of course for these same reasons, overuse of light bright colours can fatigue the eye.

Graphics and photos: Sue Gaviller

High Value Colours. Graphics and photos: Sue Gaviller

High value colours are especially noticeable in shady locations, at twilight, or against a dark background. On the contrary, these colours get washed out in strong midday sun or near highly reflective surfaces such as concrete or light coloured stone.

Left: High value colours, like the pastel mauve of these Campanula, appear washed out under strong sun. Right: These same plants seem to glow in the fading light of dusk. Photos: Cathy Gaviller.

Left: High value colours, like the pastel mauve of Campanula, appear washed out under strong sun. Right: These same plants seem to glow in the fading light of dusk. Photos: Cathy Gaviller.

This washout effect can be minimized with the abundant use of dark green – its lower value helps to absorb reflected light. In fact pastel-coloured plants are at their best when seen against a backdrop of lush green foliage.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Panicles of pastel mauve Syringa blossoms are a real standout against dark evergreen foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

pastel rose - resample 2

Soft lemon-peach blooms of Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’ are a striking contrast to the rich green surrounding foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Variegated foliage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Plants that contain two colours of contrasting value, variegated green and white foliage for example, will appear pastel-coloured when seen from a distance – particularly if the variegations are small. This is called assimilation – the eye optically mixes the colours, averaging the high value of the white and the lower value of the green to make a lighter green. The smaller the variegation the more evident is this effect. In the photo on the right, assimilation is most apparent with the Lamiastrum in the centre – the variegation is barely evident and the leaves appear silvery pastel green. The Hosta in the foreground exhibits no assimilation at all and the Euonymus in the background, only slightly.

Low Value Colours

Low value colours reflect less light than their high value counterparts so are less visible in the landscape, especially in shade, at dusk, or against a dark background.

Low Value Colours. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Low Value Colours. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

When viewed from a distance, dark-coloured garden elements lose their visual impact and recede into the background, an effect that is compounded by the optical illusion of appearing further away than they actually are. While low value foliage plants (especially dark green) make good garden backdrop, any dark feature you want to draw attention to is best situated close to the viewer, where the deep opulent colour can be appreciated.

barberry hedgebarberry hedge 2

Left: The low value red of this barberry hedge is rich and vibrant up close. Right: When viewed from further away the dark colour has a subtler effect, becoming part of the background. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Dark-coloured plants look exceptional against light-coloured stone, concrete, stucco, etc. and because they absorb light reflected from these surfaces, they also help to reduce glare and the washout effect of midday sun.

purple verbena resample

Low value colour from dark green hedging and dark purple Verbena, provides a good foil for the higher value of the tile-stone promenade. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Since dark colours make good background plantings, and because they don’t draw a lot of attention, they can be used  generously in the landscape. But don’t overdo it – too much low value without some medium and higher value to punctuate, will result in a garden composition that feels heavy and sombre.

Natural Value of Hues

Natural Value of HuesIt’s important to note that the basic hues in their pure state don’t have equal values. If I were to pose the question, “Which of the spectral hues has the highest inherent or native value?” you wouldn’t have to think long before responding. You’d answer yellow right? It is obviously the lightest hue on the spectrum. Likewise you would probably intuit that the hue with the lowest natural value is violet or purple.

This ranking of hues by value is of particular significance as it relates to colour balance. For example, if you want to use the conventional opposites of violet and yellow you can’t use them in equal proportion – their disparate values will create too much visual tension.

I experienced this in my own garden years ago – in my infinite gardener’s wisdom I’d decided I wanted a colour scheme consisting of only purples/violets and yellows. And in my ultimate gardener’s naiveté, I planted an alternating border of pure yellow marigolds and dark purple Lobelia (yes, yes I can hear your snickers and snorts at the mention of such amateur plant choices). It didn’t take long for me to realize how very grating this composition was, although I didn’t know why – I would later learn it takes three or four units of low Value to balance one unit of high Value, and this 3 or 4 to 1 ratio should be applied to violet and yellow.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Bright yellow Osteospermum and dark violet Petunia appear quite jarring when present in equal quantity. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo:

The same pairing, now seen in more balanced proportions with 3 or 4 parts low value to one part high value. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Another way to balance these two hues, and maybe a better way, would be to use darker yellow and lighter violet elements, which lessens the disparity between the two values. They can then be present in more or less equal proportions without the visual discomfort.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Violet and yellow can be present in equal quantities by using a higher value violet, and lower value yellow, as in this container arrangement of mauve Petunia and dark golden Calendula at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ont. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Contrasting Values

Value contrast in the garden results from both the strength & direction of sunlight, and from the pigments present in the plants. The sun shining on our gardens creates shadows and highlights that we take very much for granted – we don’t always notice the resultant areas of perceived lighter or darker colour. In fact it is this contrast of light and dark that defines an object in space and enables us to discriminate between like-coloured entities. It’s what allows us to see edges and depth, therefore texture. No one knows this better than the painter – he knows if he is painting a red flower that it involves many variations on red. He adds a little black here, some white there, or grey, thus bringing his 2D image alive. The photographer too, recognizes this – she adjusts her camera settings to compensate for natural lighting that may be less than ideal (well she knows she should, regardless of how finicky and annoying it is). In this way harsh contrast between light and dark can be minimized in her finished product.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Paeonia ‘Unknown Soldier’ – note how many different values of the hue of red are seen in the shadows, midtones and highlights. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Using contrasting values of a single hue in a planting composition creates dramatic effect in the garden; indeed nature often does this within a single plant….

peach iris-resamplebicolour iris

Left: soft orange-peach standards and falls are set off by a darker orange beard. Photo: Sue Gaviller Right: velvety purple falls contrast nicely with softer mauve standards. Photo: Pat Gaviller. 

And the gardener does it within a planting scheme or vignette….

purple bicolor daylily and rose glow barberry 2

Value contrast within a planting composition – here I’ve paired cool-pink daylilies with dark plum-red barberry. Each plant contains value contrast as well – the daylily has a plum-red eyezone and the barberry has cool-pink variegations. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Dwarf Iris and creeping thyme – beautiful value contrast of red-purple hue. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Lovely though these colour combos are, as with almost everything in the garden (and in life), too much of a good thing is… well, too much. Imagine how unpleasant it would be to look at a garden filled with high contrast plant combinations. While value contrast helps us discriminate between the various elements in a planting scheme, it doesn’t always have to be dramatic.

And don’t forget balance when contrasting values – use more low value than high value (remember that ratio of 3:1 or 4:1). And green; use lots of it (have I said that before?) low value green, as well as basic green, which has medium value and helps to balance the higher and lower values.

In the words of Spanish Poet and Playwright, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.

On that note fellow gardeners, I will conclude today’s lesson – hope you’ve learned something of value.

’Til next time,
Sue

Colouring Your Garden, Part 2 – Hue’s the Thing

 

Happy New Year y’all!

If you overindulged in last night’s new year’s celebrations and are currently paying the price, you might want to leave this post for another day – it contains lots of words and numbers and bright colours; perhaps more than your pickled brain can take in at the moment. Go nurse your hangover and come back later. For those of you who were better behaved last night, read on….

In my last post I presented an overview of Munsell’s Colour Classification System – I know it seems an overly complex approach to colour, especially as it relates to garden design, but understanding the concepts of Hue, Value and Chroma is key to effective use of colour in the garden.

Munsell’s three-attribute system is the basis for numerous colour models; for example, the Royal Horticultural Society uses a similar numeric system, employing the terms Hue, Brightness (Munsell’s Value) and Saturation (Munsell’s Chroma). Other models use such terms as Hue/Luminance/Saturation, Hue/Lightness/Saturation or Hue/Value/Saturation. In this post and in general, I use the latter; Hue, Value and Saturation – but in a Munsell framework. A purist might say I’m mixing modalities, arguing that chroma and saturation are not quite the same, but for our purposes they are close enough (I am simplifying things considerably). Today then, I’ll take a closer look at Hue.

Technically speaking, Hue refers to position on the spectrum. That ‘regular Joe’ I spoke of in my last post, was actually defining the attribute of hue – it is the response of colour receptors in our eyes (cones) to light absorbed by and reflected back from an object. The frequency and wavelength of that light determines its colour, red being the longest wavelength and violet the shortest.

Visible spectrum of light – violet light has the shortest wavelength and red the longest. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Visible spectrum of light – violet light has the shortest wavelength and red the longest.
Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Hue is also the attribute that provides the emotional impact – red is passionate; the colour of anger or cupid’s arrow, yellow is happy and optimistic. It should be noted here that the human response to a particular hue isn’t universal – it’s determined largely by our culture, and by personal experience. The colour red in China symbolizes good luck and prosperity, in India it means purity, and in Hebrew tradition it represents sacrifice and sin. Blue may feel cool and calm to most, but if an individual experienced something traumatic in a room painted blue, that colour may forever trigger negative emotions. Case in point; many people experience bright yellow as a cheerful colour – I find it nauseating. When I was in my mid twenties I took up knitting (for whatever reason knitting had become a fad among young women at the time). I’d been working on a bright yellow mohair sweater (what can I say, it was the eighties and we all wore big hair, big shoulders and big colour). I stayed up late one night trying to finish this furry fright, and after hours of focusing on the gaudy garment, I went to sleep still visualizing bright yellow – indeed the colour permeated my dreams. I awoke several hours later feeling quite nauseous (apparently I’d come down with a nasty gastrointestinal bug). As I drifted in and out of near-delirious, nausea-interrupted sleep, I was still dreaming yellow. Once an association is made between a visual stimuli (or any stimuli) and an emotional or physical response, it may be with us for a lifetime. To this day bright yellow can still make me queasy.

butchart gardens red bridge 2

The colour red has great significance in Japanese culture, symbolizing among other things, that which is sacred – hence the red bridge or ‘Guzei’ in the Japanese Garden represents the path to salvation or redemption. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Primary Hues

Perhaps you’ve heard conflicting information as to which hues are the primaries – are they red, green and blue? Cyan, magenta and yellow? Red, yellow and blue? The correct answer is… all of them – it just depends which model you’re considering. The additive colour system, or RGB (red, green, blue) model, refers to the combining of red, green and blue light to produce a broad range of perceived colours – your computer monitor, television screen, and that awesome light show accompanying your favourite rock band in concert, utilize this model.  The subtractive model, or CMYK is used in ink colorant systems, your inkjet printer for example – cyan, magenta and yellow are the primaries in this model.

The RYB (red, yellow, blue) model was the original subtractive model, predating colour science – it was replaced by CMYK since it is believed that more colours can be produced using the primaries of cyan, magenta and yellow than with red, yellow and blue. Nonetheless, RYB is still used by artists, especially painters. It is also an effective illustrative model which I too utilize and will discuss later in this post.

So what does all this have to with us? As gardeners, we manipulate neither light for digital media application, nor pigment for printing or painting. However, we do manipulate plants, the colour of which comes from pigments, and the light that shines on them – an understanding of the applicable colour models is therefore beneficial.

To complicate things further, the human eye blends colours differently again, in a phenomenon called optical mixing. Ever have the experience of trying to match a print fabric skirt or shirt with a solid colour blouse or tie? You may have perfectly matched one of the colours in the print, but when you view the pairing from a few feet away, the colours appear to clash. The eye has blended together the various colours in the print to make an entirely different colour – this optical mixing is especially evident with small patterns, less so with larger blocks of colour. As we continue our exploration of colour properties, you will see that this comes into play often in the garden.

mixing models

Left: Additive mixing – primaries are Red, Green and Blue. Middle: Subtractive mixing – primaries are Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Note that the secondary colours of one system are the primaries of the other. Right: Optical Mixing – Colour mixing according to the human eye. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Munsell’s aim was to develop an approach to colour that approximated the way the eye perceives it. Like his predecessors, beginning with Isaac Newton, he conceptualized the visible spectrum of light as a circle of hues. This was of much more use to artists and designers than the linear spectrum – by placing red next to violet it allowed for red-violet combinations and also provided a better tool for visualizing colour relationships, e.g. opposites or complements.

The Basic Hues

Munsell organized hues into a circle of five major hues (Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple) and five minor hues (Yellow-Red, Green-Yellow, Blue-Green, Purple-Blue and Red-Purple). Together these comprise the Basic Hues and these basic hues are the colours which are most pure or saturated.

Graphics and Photos: Sue Gaviller

Graphics and Photos: Sue Gaviller

Intermediate Hues

The transition from one hue to another is a gradual one with many hues in between, so the spaces between the basic hues he divided further, allowing for intermediate hues. All the basic hues begin with 5, 5R being the basic hue of red, 5YR is yellow-red, 5Y is yellow etc. The intermediate hues all begin with 10 – 10R, 10YR, 10Y and so on around the circle.

Munsell Wheel resampleConsider the hues between 10RP and 10R; all are designated R – 2.5R is nearer to Red-Purple so will contain more of that hue, 5R is basic or pure red,  7.5R and 10R will contain increasing amounts of Yellow-Red (orange).

Numbers then begin at 2.5 again – 2.5YR has more red in it, 5YR is the basic hue of Yellow-Red and the hues 7.5YR and 10YR become increasingly more Yellow.

Munsell’s Basic and Intermediate hues. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Each of these 40 numerically designated hues, has a corresponding page in the Munsell Book of Color. Each hue is a ‘family’ of colours with numerous value and chroma variations making up the page – below are some examples. Note that as the hues progress from one to another, the changes are subtle but still evident.

R & YR

Eight different hue pages as they might appear in the Munsell book of colour. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

The Artist’s Wheel

Okay enough of all this technical stuff – let’s look at the more familiar Standard Artist’s Wheel, the RYB model we all learned in grade school. It differs from Munsell’s hue circle in a number of ways; instead of five major hues and five minor hues, there are three primary colours (Red, Yellow and Blue), three secondary colours (orange, green and violet), and six tertiary colours (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet).

Artist's Colour Wheel. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Artist’s Wheel. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Munsell Hue Circle. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Munsell Hue Circle. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

As well, some of the colours are named differently; violet instead of purple, orange instead of yellow-red, yellow-green instead of green-yellow etc.. More significantly, Munsell’s circle contains ten basic hues whereas the Artist’s wheel has 12. This means that the complementary pairs will differ as well – red & green vs. red & blue-green, red-violet & yellow-green vs. red-purple & green. The only exception is blue and orange (Munsell’s Yellow-Red) which are the same on both wheels. Munsell used the term opposite rather than complementary and he believed that in order for two colours to be truly opposite, they had to completely neutralize each other when mixed together, hence producing grey. This was how he arrived at the ten basic hues.

So which of these circular representations of hues is most useful to us? Well either… or both – some would argue that Munsell’s opposites are less jarring when used together than the traditional complements. The Artists wheel, on the other hand, works out colour schemes better because 12 colours can be divided more ways than 10.  I use both, but always with Munsell’s basic premises in mind.

Contrasting Hues

Pairing hues that are distant from each other on the colour wheel (e.g. opposites or complements) creates high contrast. These dynamic colour combinations really draw the eye, thus overuse can cause visual fatigue or appear garish.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

This vignette from an area in my front garden demonstrates the highly contrasting hue combination of red-violet and yellow-green. A lovely combo, but too much of such intense contrast could easily overwhelm a composition. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Hues that are close to or beside each other on the colour wheel result in low contrast when used together. This causes less visual tension and is therefore more restful.

Blues and purples are near to each other on the colour wheel resulting in a lower contrast composition that is visually softer than high contrast scenarios. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blues and purples are near to each other on the colour wheel resulting in a low contrast composition that is visually softer than high contrast scenarios. Photo: Jane Reksten

Of course too little contrast can also end up creating monotony, so be sure to use some areas of high contrast and some areas of lower contrast. I also recommend that you limit the number of hues in your design. This is less constricting than you may think – remember each hue has a whole family of colours associated with it, with varying value and saturation levels, meaning many different but related colours.

Warm Hues

warm hues 2

Warm hues. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Hues are described as either warm or cool – warm hues are those on the right side of the spectrum and cool hues are those on the left. Red-violet, though it doesn’t exist on the spectrum, can be considered warm or cool because it has both red and violet in it.

Warm hues are lively and vibrant and create the optical illusion of advancing toward the viewer, which means they appear closer than they actually are. For these reasons they are real attention-grabbers, especially at full saturation – gardeners make the mistake of overusing these eye-catching hues thereby overpowering all other aspects of the garden. Warm is dominant and little is needed to make a powerful statement.

Warm colours like red and yellow require on;y a few splashes to be seen and appreciated. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Kendall Jackson winery, Sonoma County CA. Splashes of warm reds and yellows are all that’s needed to provide sufficient visual punch without overshadowing other important elements of the design: line, form and texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Cool Hues

cool hues

Cool hues. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Cool hues are subtle and restrained, therefore won’t overwhelm a garden design. Optically they recede from the observer, appearing further away – best to situate them up close where they are most visible.

As I mentioned earlier, there may be personal and cultural associations that come into play regarding our emotional response to various colours, but there is in fact a physiological reason for our ocular response. The eye focuses on distant objects in much the same way it focuses on green or blue, and on near objects much the same way as on red. Since the eye is more at rest when viewing objects in the distance, it perceives cool blues and greens as more restful.

 

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A peaceful composition of cool greens, blue-green, blue, and soft violet in an Oregon shade garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When contrasting warm and cool hues, cool should outweigh warm by at least three to one. If you follow the rule of thumb that green should be the predominant hue in your garden, this ratio will be easy to satisfy. Unfortunately, in our attempt to create season long colour, we include too many brightly coloured foliage plants, sometimes to the near-exclusion of green. Fellow gardeners please remember, green is good. Green is to the gardener as a canvas to the artist – it is the backdrop against which all other hues are set.

warm hues garden resamplewarm hues + green resample

The image on the left contains too many warm colours without enough green. The image on the right has been been photoshopped to illustrate the balancing effect of green. Photo: Sue Gaviller

 

Well my friends you are one step closer to painting your garden masterpiece, but there’s still more to learn – next post I’ll explore the colour attribute of Value.

’Til then,
Sue